Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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A. The Bullfrog Hills (continued)

6. Homestake-King Mine

a. History

Once a prospector was lucky enough to find indications of gold on the surface of the ground, he then faced another difficult decision. Which way would the ore vein run after it disappeared beneath the surface? This was a question of great import, since all mining districts had distinct limits as to how much ground each prospector could locate. Thus, if the discoverer of surface gold guessed wrong, and the vein angled out of his claim and underneath neighboring claims, then the discoverer was out of luck, while his neighbor was in.

This was the problem which faced N.P. Reinhart and Ben Hazeltine when they discovered what became the Gold Bar Mine. Like most prospectors, they had a rudimentary knowledge of geologic formations, and an even greater store of contemporary prospectors' myths and hunches. After studying the land, the two men decided that the vein ran northwest and southeast, and staked their claims. Unfortunately, they had guessed incorrectly.

As usual with the site of a new discovery, the Gold Bar area was soon over-run with eager prospectors looking for "close-in" ground. One of these was a man named John McMullin, and the poor luck which had dogged Reinhart and Hazeltine proved to be his good fortune. McMullin studied the Gold Bar claims, examined the surrounding territory, and decided that the vein ran southwest and northeast: or perpendicular to the prior guess. McMullin therefore staked out his allotted three claims, named them the Homestake after the famous South Dakota gold mine, and started to dig.

McMullin staked his claims sometime in early 1905, and immediately found indications of good ore deposits. Within two months of his discovery eastern financiers had obtained an option on his infant mine. As McMullin continued to dig, and continued to find good ore indications, the deal was soon consummated, and in September of 1905 McMullin sold out for cash, stock and a seat on the board of directors of the Homestake Consolidated Mining Company. The Homestake was the usual corporation of the times, with the exception that it decided not to sell shares on the public market. The company was dominated by semi-retired Dallas businessmen, who were looking for a good investment and who seemed to have ample cash to finance the development of the mine. B.D. Milam, a former Dallas real estate magnate, was elected president of the company and Con O'Donnell was named general manager in charge of development. John McMullin, as promised, proudly took his seat on the board of directors, a prospector who made good.

By the end of September, after only one month of vigorous development and exploration work, the Homestake Company verified the good guess work of McMullin. The company announced that it had penetrated the Gold Bar ledge on its property and further declared its belief that the ledge ran entirely through one of its claims. The Homestake Consolidated Mining Company was in business. [62]

During the remainder of 1905, the Homestake rapidly went to work. A shaft was begun, just a few feet inside the boundary line separating the Homestake from the Gold Bar, and ore valued at $39 per ton was almost immediately uncovered. The company began to build a bunk house for its miners, and ordered a 15-horsepower hoisting engine for the property. The new hoist arrived promptly on January 5, 1906, and was soon installed and working. The future of the property seemed assured when a saloon was established near the mine, for saloon-keepers in mining camps seemed to have an uncanny ability to judge which mines would furnish long-term business and which would quickly fade away.

Flanked as it was by the Gold Bar Mine, which had completely captured the attention and the headlines of the local newspapers, the Homestake quietly developed its property without the benefit of much publicity. By the end of March, 1906, the exploration shaft had been sunk to a depth of 220 feet, which caused the company to cease sinking until means could be provided to pipe air to the miners far below ground. The Homestake kept the papers informed of its discoveries as time progressed, but the $35 ore found in that mine could not compete with the more fabulous reports from the Gold Bar Mine, and Homestake news was relegated to the back pages.

Although the Homestake Company had an official policy of not selling shares of its stock on the open market, it had no control, of course, over the sale of shares by its stockholders. Blocks of shares appeared on the local stock markets from time to time, and after a stow start, began to capture the attention of local investors. 100,000 shares were traded in early April at a price of 75¢ each, and as investors realized that the Homestake Consolidated Company meant business, the price rose to 85¢ in May. While this could not compare with the $1.60 commanded by the Gold Bar, it was a very health price for stock in a company which was still in the early stages of exploration and development. Although the San Francisco disaster depressed stock values temporarily, they soon recovered. [63]

In the meantime, another mining company had opened for business in the Gold Bar-Homestake area. Incorporated as the Bullfrog Gold King Mining and Milling Company, it was owned in large by the same people who controlled the Homestake. B.D. Milam was the president of this company, and Con O'Donnell was general manager, mirroring the same positions which they held with the Homestake. F.S. Kelly, the present superintendent of the Homestake mine, was also named as superintendent of the Gold King. The new company owned four claims and two fractional claims adjoining the Gold Bar and the Homestake on the north. Although the two companies held separate incorporations, for all practical purposes they were considered the same mine, and were developed in tandem.

As the summer progressed, the two mines were steadily developed. Good surface values were found on the Gold King, while the Homestake continued to uncover milling grade ore in its shaft, which was now down to 285 feet. Fourteen men were employed at the mines, and a 15-horsepower gas hoist was ordered to facilitate development at the Gold King. By the end of the summer, the hoist had arrived and was installed, and both mines reported continuing good ore values. Nothing sensational, however, was uncovered at either property, and the Homestake-Gold King complex continued to take a back seat in the newspapers to their neighbor the Gold Bar. Private investors showed more confidence in the mines than did the newspapers, and Homestake stock steadily advanced through the summer, until it sold for $1.15 per share in the middle of August.

Gold Bar-Homestake camp
Illustration 40. The Gold Bar-Homestake camp in June of 1906. The main working dump of the Homestake can be seen in the top center of the picture. Note that telephone lines have already been connected to the little work camp, and that piles of lumber on the ground indicate that wooden structures will soon take the place of earlier tent homes. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

main working shaft of the Homestake Mine
Illustration 41. Main working shaft of the Homestake Mine in June of 1906. The small hoisting frame sits directly above the shaft, and the ore bucket is visible at the surface. The tin building housed the 15-horsepower hoisting engine used in the early days of the mine. A prospect hole is also visible above the engine house. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

By early fall, the Homestake Company was ready to pass from the exploratory stage into the serious development of its mine. Underground probes had indicated the presence of good ore bodies, and with a better idea of which way the ledges twisted and turned the company was able to plan an advanced development campaign. A new working shaft was started close to the division line between the Homestake and the Gold King claims and a 40-horsepower hoist was ordered for placement there. By way of underground connections, the company planned to use this shaft to hoist all the ore found in both mines to the surface. Investors agreed with the rosy future foreseen by the mining companies, and Homestake stock continued to record good sales at $1.15 per share. Gold King stock also entered the trading board at a price of 35¢.

During November, the realization slowly hit the Bullfrog District that the Homestake and Gold King mines were quietly developing into something big. When the companies announced plans to consolidate their workings even more, and when the Homestake ordered more cable to enable it to sink beyond the 300-foot level the news was printed on the front pages of the newspapers rather than on the back. Although neither company deluged the papers with reports of fabulous ore discoveries as most mining companies were wont to do, stock values continued to rise. Gold King hit a high of 53¢ per share on November 9th, and Homestake rose to $1.70 the following week.

Then, in December, the management of the Homestake and Gold King mines took the anticipated step and officially combined their companies. With the overwhelming approval of the stockholders and directors who were gathered in Dallas, the two companies were reorganized as the Homestake-King Consolidated Mining and Milling Company. The merger meant a stock split, and all the old Gold King and Homestake shares were called in, for exchange for the new. Gold King stock was exchanged at the ration of four shares of old to one new, and Homestake stock went on a one-to-one basis, based upon the present market value of the two stocks. The new company announced that its capitalization was for 1,500,000 shares, or half again as many shares as either company had held before. More available shares, of course, meant that each share was worth less, and although the Bullfrog District heartily approved of the merger, Homestake-King stock immediately sold for less than Homestake Consolidated had been selling.

The new company was prepared for such inevitable occurrences, and soon announced its plans for the future. The company had a $40,000 treasury, enough to finance a considerable amount of development work, and admitted that it was seriously considering the construction of a mill upon its property, should ore values continue to hold with depth. Towards the end of 1906, the company began to sack its high grade ore, worth from $350 to $500 per ton, and seemed to be in fine shape. Taxes were paid on improvements to the mines consisting of two gas hoists, one engine house, two gallows frames, mining tools, ore cars, and three lots which the company owned in Rhyolite. But investors seemed wary. Stock prices fell to $1.25 per share at the end of December, which was not unexpected due to the merger, but sales were slow. Undoubtedly, the troubles which the Gold Bar was experiencing about this time depressed the Homestake-King sales, since the two companies were mining the same ore lode. [64]

Development activities proceeded through the early months of 1907. In February, with twenty-one men employed in three shifts, the company began construction of another bunk house and a boarding house. Teams of surveyors began a search through the surrounding hills for a water source to supply the future mill. In March the superintendent was forced to halt vertical work when the shaft reached the 400-foot level, which strained the old 15-horsepower engine to its utmost. While the mine awaited its long overdue 40-horsepower engine, the men were put to work in lateral explorations, pushing drifts and crosscuts out from the shaft at the 200, 300 and 400-foot levels. Ore of good milling value was found on all levels.

At the end of March, the company leased the water rights at Mud Springs, approximately five miles north, and began improvements at the springs designed to increase the water flow to a level sufficient enough to support a stamp mill. Although no detailed plans were yet reached, the mine superintendent guessed that the future mill would have forty stamps. The Bullfrog Miner printed a summary of development work at the Homestake-King on March 29th, listing a total of 2,288 feet of underground work completed. Surface improvements consisted of one 40-horsepower hoist (which had just arrived), one 24-horsepower hoist and the old 15-horsepower engine. In addition, the company operated a 10 by 12 compressor, which powered the air drills used in the mine.

Then, on April 5th, the Homestake-King committed itself to the construction of a mill, a step which the Bullfrog District had eagerly awaited. The directors voted $100,000 for mill construction, but did not release any details concerning the reduction plans. The local papers felt assured that nothing less than forty stamps would be considered. Con O'Donnel, general manager of the company, gave the papers an estimate of 40,000 tons of $25 ore in the mine as well as 90,000 tons of $15 ore. The Rhyolite Herald thought this estimate of $2,350,000 of mineral content was too low, and speculated that the mine actually contained $5,000,000 worth of ore. Given either estimate, the company felt that all the paying ore in the mine could be profitably mined since their experts had predicted mining and mill costs of $4 per ton. Investors took heart at the announced plans, and Homestake-King stock rose slightly to $1.20 per share.

Committed to developing its mine on a large scale, the Homestake-King forged ahead. The new 40-horsepower hoist was placed above the main working shaft and sinking resumed, with the intention of doubling the depth to 800 feet. Since the ore discovered on the 400-foot level had been the best yet discovered in the mine, the company hoped for further improvements as greater depths were reached. At the same time, the surveyors reported that Mud Springs could be developed in sufficient quantity to supply the mill with adequate water, and the company negotiated for its purchase. In reply to constant inquiries, the Homestake-King promised that the papers would be given complete mill plans, as soon as water rights were secured. [65]

Work at the Homestake-King complex continued apace through the long hot summer months. The main shaft reached the 500-foot level on July 20th, and continued to show good values with increased depth. During August, the company directors met at Rhyolite to inspect the mine and then retired to San Francisco to discuss details of the proposed mill. On August 24th, they cautiously announced their preliminary plans. The mill would be large, with twenty stamps and a 100-ton daily capacity, but details of the reduction process would have to await the results of ore tests. For this purpose, five tons of ore were shipped to San Francisco for extensive tests, and representatives of several machinery firms were invited to visit the mine in order to draw up and submit bids on the construction work. Meanwhile, the company purchased the water rights at Mud Springs, and put seven men to work on a pipe line.

Ore tests were completed in October, and the company announced that the results indicated that a 96% savings ratio was possible. President Milam returned to Rhyolite to participate in ground-breaking ceremonies as the company began preliminary excavation work on the mill site. Milam told reporters that the mill, with good luck, would be completed by March of 1908, but that final contractural details had not yet been resolved. In the meantime, the miners were shifted from shaft work, and began lateral work on several levels in order to develop quantities of ore for delivery to the mill.

Final plans were announced in November. The Homestake-King signed a contract with the Nevada-California Power Company for the delivery of electric power to the mill site for ten years. The next day; on November 23d, the company announced that the contract for the construction of its mill had been let to the famous Colorado Iron Works of Denver, the winner of the five firms which bid for the job. The Rhyolite papers differed as to the costs of construction, with one reporting $150,000 and the other $200,000 but both gave details of the mill plans.

The ore would first pass through a grizzly and a McCully gyratory crusher, for preliminary crushing, and then would undergo final crushing by twenty-five stamps. From there the pulp would pass over twelve feet of copper plates, then through a Door classifier and to three tube mills for fine grinding. The slime would next be run through two settling tanks, each measuring thirty feet across and six feet deep, while tailings from the tube mills would be rerun over the plates. From the settling tanks, the slime would enter final reduction via two seventeen-foot agitators, the stock slime tanks, a forty-frame Butters filter and the gold storage solution tanks. Finally, the ore would be filtered through the zinc boxes, producing the final bullion. In addition, two twenty-foot by five-foot sand tanks were provided to treat the intermediate sands by leaching, as necessary. As was obvious to all concerned, the Homestake-King mill was the result of much testing and thought, and represented one of the finest stamp mills which money and modern technology could provide--an undoubted contrast to the rather simple mill being built at the Gold Bar.

The mill building itself would be constructed of steel throughout, and Mr. Rothwell of the Colorado Iron Works, who had supervised the construction of mills "in practically all the camps of the United States and in Mexico," would personally supervise all construction details. The design of the mill building would be such that the capacity could be increased beyond the initial twenty-five stamps in the future without impeding the day-to-day operation of the mill. On December 3rd, the Tonopah Lumber Company won the contract to supply lumber for the mill construction, and three days later excavation work began in earnest.

But despite the clear evidence of big plans in store for the Homestake-King, its stock took a beating in the fall of 1907, as a result of the great panic which was sweeping the nation. Prices fell steadily from 97¢ per share in July to 854: in September, to 75¢ in October and to 55¢ on December 4th, just a few days before construction work began. [66]

Delays almost immediately began to plague the company. The Homestake-King had contracted with the Gold Bar Company for the water necessary to begin work on the concrete foundations of the mill, but the water problems with the Gold Bar pipe line prevented it from delivering any to the Homestake-King. Nevertheless, the company steadily worked on the excavation and foundation work, with water painfully hauled from Rhyolite and from Currie's Well. Another bunk house was built at the mine to accommodate the additional fifteen men hired to work on the mill. By the end of December, the excavations were almost complete, the mill foundations were well under way, and the Colorado Iron Works notified Mr. Rothwell that the factory was ready to begin shipment of parts and machinery as soon as he was ready for them.

By the middle of January, 1908, the excavation work was complete and the mill foundations were almost finished. Carloads of material began to arrive over the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad, and the company had in its employ one 10-mule team used solely in hauling water, and two others for hauling rock and sand for the concrete. President Milam visited Rhyolite in order to inspect the progress of the work, and informed reporters that the total weight of the machinery to be delivered for the mill was in excess of 700 tons. Milam expected the mill to be operating by the first of May. Towards the end of February, with the foundations practically finished, framing for the mill building began, while operations in the mine continued as it readied itself to deliver a steady supply of ore to the mill.

During March the foundations were finally finished, and a Bulletin reporter wrote that they measured 231 feet from end to end and 103 feet from side to side. By now mill machinery and material was arriving almost daily over the railroad, as well as pipes for the water line. As April passed by, the battery bins were finished and the ore bins were started. The foundations for the settling, sand, and leaching tanks were completed, and the steel frame of the building was put in place. Cyanide tanks were under construction, the twenty-five stamps were installed and the tube mills were put into position. Delays in certain deliveries, such as steel sheeting to cover the building, slowed the pace of construction.

With construction lagging behind schedule at the end of April, the company increased its force to sixty-three men. Final shipments of the delayed materials were soon received, and the building began to take shape above the desert. The seventy-five ton ore bin was finished, and the 350-ton bin to hold the crushed ore was completed. The ore crushers were installed and the 50,000 gallon water tank was erected. Amalgamating tables were finished and work began on the cyanide tanks. The Homestake-King made arrangements to tap the power line of the Gold Bar mill soon after it shut down, in order to save on the cost of building another power line to the site. The company received its shipments of electric motors, consisting of two 30-horsepower, one 20-horsepower and two 10-horsepower.

During May, the company intensified the work schedule in the mine and purchased and installed a six-drill compressor plant to power additional air drills. By the middle of the month the sheet metal skin of the mill was half finished, as was the pipe line, and a week later the Nevada-California Power Company began to install the electric connections between the Gold Bar and the Homestake-King. A slight delay ensued when problems with the water pumps for the pipe line were encountered, but on June 3d the mill was complete, except for a few final finishing touches. Reporters who visited the site were dutifully impressed and glowingly described the mill.

The mill foundations rested on solid rock, and the steel framework was securely fastened to the foundations. Ample windows were provided for light inside the mill, and the company awaited only the arrival of a new pump and the turning on of the power by the Nevada-California Power Company to begin operations. According to the details of the construction contract, the Colorado Iron Works representative would supervise the operation of the mill for sixty days, and the Homestake-King would only take final acceptance of the mill after that period, after the mill had proved to be operating flawlessly.

As construction on the Homestake-King Mill had progressed, stock prices in the company had steadily gone downhill. After a brief flurry in December of 1907, when prices rebounded to 75¢ per share, the sudden closing of the Gold Bar Mill, and all the dirt which that stirred up had a deadening effect upon the fortunes of the Homestake-King. Although there were no murmurings or rumors of fraud connected with the Homestake-King, the public obviously felt that since its mill would run on the same ore ledge which had utterly failed in the Gold Bar Mine, that the same fate would be repeated at the Homestake. Stocks fell to 57¢ per share in January, to 48¢ in February, and all the way to 30¢ each in April, after the Gold Bar Mill had closed. At that point the slide slowed down, and Homestake-King stock hovered around 304 per share for several months. [67]

On June 20, 1908, the Homestake-King Mill turned on its machinery for the first time. The preliminary tests went well. No leaks were found in the water lines, and no vibrations were felt in the mill, even when all twenty-five stamps were activated. The company proudly announced that the mill was extremely well-built, and one of the finest of its kind to be seen anywhere. It was automatic, in the terms of the day, so that a force of only twenty men was needed to operate the mill around the clock. Best of all, in the light of the recent Gold Bar disaster, the Homestake-King proudly announced that there were no mortgages or outstanding loans against the company and that the mill was completely paid for. Thus, "there will never be any question about the property being taken over for debt." As a further attempt to boost the sagging investor confidence in the Bullfrog district, the company reiterated that it had "never sold a single share of stock on any exchange. The stock that has been sold on the exchanges did not come from the treasury, but has been offered by private parties."

During the first week of July, after preliminary mill tests were completed, production runs began. Approximately eighty tons of ore were sent through the workings per day, and three shifts of sixty men were at work in the mine and the mill. Towards the end of the month, the mill's capacity had been increased to one hundred tons per day, with the mill extracting 90% on the gold in low-grade ore and 95% in high-grade. On August 22d, the Homestake-King made its first shipment of bullion, weighing 925 ounces. The Rhyolite Herald estimated the shipment to be worth $17,000 and the Bullfrog Miner, guessed $25,000. Whichever was right, the Homestake-King had entered the rare and proud company of producing mines.

But on September 1st, the mill was suddenly shut down, and the entire Bullfrog District braced itself for a repetition of the Gold Bar story. Rumors flew thick and fast concerning the cause of the shut-down, with the majority holding that the Homestake-King, like the Gold Bar, had no ore in its mine. The company itself compounded the mystery and confusion by remaining silent, giving the newspapers no reason for the closure. This time, however, the district was blessed with a happier ending. Conflicts had arisen between the Homestake-King and the Colorado Iron Works concerning the final payments due on the mill, and the mill had been closed while the directors of the two companies met in the middle of September to iron out a compromise. Late in September an agreement was reached and the mine and mill resumed operations. President Milam, who belated realized the consternation which had swept through the district, apologized for the lack of information given out by the company, and promised a policy of full publicity in the future in order to avoid any further misunderstandings.

Homestake-King Mill
Illustration 42. The Homestake-King Mill in May 1908, looking south towards Bullfrog Mountain. Note that all the windows have not yet been put into place. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

Homestake-Gold Bar camp
Illustration 43. The Homestake-Gold Bar camp in June of 1908. The Gold Bar Mill, now shut down, is at the left, with the almost-completed Homestake-King Mill at the extreme right. Wooden buildings have taken over the camp site from the tent dwellings of previous years. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

Homestake-King Mill
Illustration 44. Interior of the Homestake-King Mill, ca June 1908, just prior to completion of the mill. This view is of the battery room, where the ore exits the twenty-five stamps. The stamps are to the left, with one each attached to each vertical shaft seen in the photo. In the rear, note the steel framework of the building, covered with sheet-metal skin. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

Homestake-King Mill
Illustration 45. Another view of the interior of the Homestake-King Mill, ca June 1908. The three tube mills, used for fine grinding of the ore, are clearly visible. Note also one of the mill's large tanks to the right, and the structural steelwork of the mill building overhead. Photo courtesy of Nevada Historical Society.

Through October, November and December of 1908, the mine and mill ran smoothly, producing a steady stream of gold bullion. Exact production figures are hard to determine. The Bullfrog Miner which seemed to have a habit of exaggerating, gave estimates of $25,000 for October, $25,000 for November and $11,000 in December. The more conservative Rhyolite Herald gave estimates for the same months as $10,000, $12,000 and $12,000. The company itself did not release monthly ore figures, but later stated that production for 1908 had amounted to $45,000 for the months of July through December. The Herald, in the meantime, took the Miner to task for publishing inflated production figures, for such practices could only hurt the district when the truth was revealed.

But whatever the exact figures, it was evident that the Homestake-King mill was a grand success. Following the lay-off of the construction workers, the company employed nineteen men in the mine and eleven in the mill, and reduced its ore at a cost of only $4 per ton for mining and milling. Since the average ore being run through the mill was worth $8.50 per ton, the company was making a good profit. The Homestake-King Mill was one of the most economical ones for its time, and had the smallest payroll for the amount of ore being milled in the Bullfrog District. With the mine and mill running smoothly, the predominate question which now affected the future of the company was the extent of its ore reserves. On November 11th, by which time the mill had been running for four months, the mine superintendent reported that the mine had. enough proven reserves to supply the mill with eighty tons per day for six more months. Needless to say, the mine was exploring for further ore reserves to lengthen that time, and had every hope that the ore ledges which it was following would continue to contain good milling ore.

Towards the end of November, with the mine and mill running at full force, the Rhyolite Herald ruefully recalled the panic of a few months earlier when the mill had shut down. So many "wiseacres, it said, had been "looking for another such an announcement as was handed out on Gold Bar, to the effect that there was nothing doing." Nevertheless, investors had been burned too often to want to put their money into another mine at this late date, and Homestake-King stock continued to slide. The panic caused by the short shut-down in September had sent stock plummeting to 204: a share, and despite a weak rise in price after the mill resumed operations, the October high was only 26¢. November saw stock in the company fall to 164: and by the end of 1908 the mine which had produced $45,000 saw its stock selling for a dismal 94 per share. There was nothing the company could do to reverse the dismaying trend. Stockbrokers were as puzzled as was the company. As one reported, "This property is now on a paying basis, and bullion shipments are regularly made. The stock, which has always gone contrary to expectations, is as low as it ever was, and it is hard to explain the slump." Even the report that the company had received patents to its property from the U.S. government could not halt the slump. [68]

There was nothing the company could do except continue milling its ore and hope for a revival of public confidence. This it did. In the meantime, the steady employment of miners and millmen in the Homestake area brought other concerns to light. An unofficial census was taken in the fall of 1908 which showed eighteen school-age children living at the Homestake-King camp. Since it was considered an extreme hardship to force those children and their mothers to live and attend school in Rhyolite, a movement was initiated to raise funds for a branch school at the Homestake. Dances, picnics and other fund-raising activities were scheduled during the last part of 1908 and the early months of 1909 to raise the necessary money. Several buildings were donated by mining companies, parents volunteered efforts, and the movement slowly build momentum.

The mine and mill, meanwhile, continued to operate, and in accordance with its new policy, submitted its annual report for publication in the Rhyolite newspapers. Although the report showed that the mine and mill were both well-equipped and operating efficiently, the company itself was not in the best of financial shape. Its account books, for the period ending on November 1, 1908, showed that the Homestake-King had expended $297,951.86 to date. Of this amount, $160,977.50 had been the cost of constructing the mill and pipeline, $86,032.90 had been expended in developing the mine and in the purchase of machinery and tools for it, and $38,936.41 had been spent in operating costs for the mine and mill since the mill had opened on July 1st. Since bullion sales from the mill had totaled only $20,116.65 between July and November 1st, it was clear that the mill was operating at a loss. As the papers pointed out, however, it was normal for a large mill to take a loss during the shakedown period, and bullion sales since November had improved, so there was little cause for worry.

The treasury stock, however, had been heavily depleted. Most of it had been pledged as security for loans to cover construction costs, which had been advanced by major stockholders in the company. As a result, the company was left with an excellent mill and a good mine, but with very little money to operate them until bullion returns improved. Accordingly, the shareholders had authorized a $200,000 bond issue at the company's general meeting during the first of December. The bonds were given to the company's creditors, most of whom were stockholders, and in return the liens were lifted from the company's treasury stock. Thus the Homestake-King hoped to be able to finance short-term operating costs from the sale of treasury stock, and to retire the new bonds from- the proceeds of bullion returns. The bonds carried a 10 percent interest rate, and were due for repayment on December 8, 1909. The interest was payable semi-annually, with the first installment due June 9, 1909. $174,227.62 worth of bonds were immediately issued, which cleared the company from all other forms of debt. Unfortunately, between the time the plan was decided upon and the end of the year, the continued fall of stock prices meant that the Homestake-King would not be able to finance as much from the sale of treasury stock as it had originally hoped.

Despite this somewhat gloomy picture of the company's finances which was revealed, the Rhyolite Herald and other papers praised the company for its open and honest policy. It was a good move, said the Herald which would "re-establish confidence" in the district, if followed by other companies. Investors, however, were not so certain, and Homestake-King stock continued to decline, ending January of 1909 at 8¢ per share.

The mine and mill continued to produce. The Bullfrog Miner estimated January's production at $16,000, and the Rhyolite Herald at $15,000, but troubles with malfunctions in the tube mills caused February's and March's figures to drop to an estimated $13,000 and $16,000. The mine, in the meantime, failed to find new ore bodies, and time began to run out on the Homestake-King. The best ore found during the month of February assayed at only $2 per ton, far too low to consider milling. In March, small bunches of rich ore were found in the lower levels of the mine, but not enough to call it a strike, and not enough to supply the mill for more than a few days. Desperately, the company decided to increase its force of miners and to sink below the 500-foot level in its search for additional ore. The mine superintendent reported that all available miners were being shifted to a search for new ore, with only a minimal force kept in the upper levels to supply the mill from the dwindling quantities of the known ore reserve.

Investors smelled doom, and Homestake-King stock hastened in its fall. Prices fell from 7¢ to 6¢ and then to 5¢ in February, and further to 4¢ in March and 3¢ in April. The stock found buyers at these low prices, but that was a small consolation to the company. Then, on April 19th, the inevitable news came. The Homestake-King mine and mill were closed. The company announced that the shut-down was for an indefinite period, but no one was deceived. Thirty miners and millmen sadly packed their belongings and prepared to move elsewhere, and Homestake-King stock immediately dropped another point, to 3¢ per share. The nine-month life of the Homestake-King mill had ended. [69]

Two days later, the Herald was able to furnish more details. In answer to telegraphic enquiries, President Milam had admitted that the directors of the company had no definite plans for the immediate future. Holders of the bond issue, however, had made no indications that they planned to forfeit on the property if the June interest payment was not made. Since the company had no hopes of raising the cash for that payment, this was good news. The mine superintendent, Milam said, had informed him that the six-month supply of ore reserves, which had been forecast last November, had been accurate. All that ore had now been milled and despite feverish explorations on all levels of the mine, no new deposits had been uncovered. Although much of the ground owned by the company was still not completely explored, the company's treasury was exhausted. Thus, unless further means of financial support were found, the Homestake-King would be unable to conduct more development work. In summary, the directors could not promise that the Homestake-King would be reopened, and the chances that it would were rather slim.

The closure of the Homestake-King mine and mill was a heavy blow to the hopes of the Bullfrog District, but the circumstances surrounding it were entirely different from those when the Gold Bar Mill had closed a year earlier. To all intents, the efforts to develop the Homestake-King into a major Bullfrog producer had been businesslike and above-board, and the Rhyolite papers paid the company its due. "Certainly the Homestake people have made a good try," editorialized the Rhyolite Herald the Bullfrog Miner, agreed, calling the company's efforts "frank and honest and conscientious." The final cleanup from the mill, made after operations had ceased, netted the company $3,200.

But the Homestake-King was not ready to give up. After all, it had one of the best reduction mills in the state, and its mine still had promise. In the short run, while the directors were searching for ways to raise more development funds, the company negotiated with several Pioneer District mines, trying to find companies willing to pay to have their ores milled at the Homestake. The negotiations fell through, however, and as the summer progressed the big mill lay idle. Stock, in the meantime, had fallen to 1 per share on May 15th, and finally disappeared altogether from the trading boards by the end of June. When the second installment of the 1908 county taxes fell due on June 1st, the beleaguered company did not have the cash to pay, and the mine and mill were transferred to the county's delinquent list. [70]

During the late summer and fall of 1909, however, it became apparent that certain minor stockholders in the company were not satisfied with the operations of the Homestake-King. Several threatened to sue, alleging that competent engineers would not have built the big mill, because not enough ore was in sight to support it during a reasonable lifetime, and that the directors had thus backed a questionable proposal. In addition, the issuance of a $200,000 bond issue when the company had only six months' known ore reserves seemed suspicious.

As the anger and frustrations of certain stockholders began to surface, the Rhyolite Herald took a more cautious tone in its assessment of the management of the Homestake-King. "No end of complications may arise when once the Homestake-King affairs are in court," it wrote, "and those who purchased this alleged gilt-edge stock at par or better will be interested to know if any crooked work was done, and on the other hand the friends of the promoters will be glad to see the affair fully aired in order to efface any suspicion which may be cast upon the good intentions of any officer or director of the company."

On October 2nd, the legal struggle commenced. Julius B. Fensterwald brought suit to recover $5,000 owed him by the company. Since the trustees of the holders of the $200,000 bond issued held a first lien against the assets of the property, Fensterwald sought to have that lien overturned, alleging various vague illegalities. As 1909 ended, the matter wound its way through the court system, without a decision being reached, and the Homestake-King, still without the means to finance further development work, was forced to miss payment on its year-end taxes.

As usual, mining suits such as this took inordinate amounts of time to become resolved. As the case dragged along in early 1910, matters were further compounded when William Kelly, another minor stockholder, also brought suit. Kelly's case was given much attention by the papers, for he had been a former member of the Homestake-King's board of directors, until being removed "by reason of the fact that he was not in accord with the methods and policies of those in control.

By July of 1910, the Herald had grown more suspicious of the Homestake-King, and suggested that the company might have dealt in fraudulent practices by releasing inflated ore figures to the press in earlier years. At the same time, the Herald also hoped for a quick solution to the court difficulties, so that the mine might be able to resume operations. The paper was so anxious to see life revived in the now-dying Bullfrog District, that it even proposed that the Homestake-King and other dormant companies be re-organized as assessable corporations, so that stockholders might be assessed to pay for exploration and development work. The plea is an indication that hard times had indeed hit the Bullfrog District, for assessment had long been illegal in Nevada, due to widespread abuses of the system during the Comstock boom years.

As 1910 stretched into 1911, the court cases slowly moved towards a decision. In the meantime, the Homestake-King mine and mill lay idle, although the company employed a watchman on the property to protect the mill building and machinery. At last, during March, Fensterwald's case was heard in Tonopah district court, and the judge rendered a decision wholly in favor of the company. All the financial and legal transactions of the Homestake-King, he ruled, had been entirely legal and above-board, and the trustees of the $200,000 bond issue held a first lien upon the property. Shortly thereafter, Kelly also lost his case, for similar reasons.

Following the conclusion of the court cases, the property of the Homestake-King was put up for auction by the county sheriff, in order to satisfy the debts of the company to the bondholders. Although this sale meant the end of the Homestake King Consolidated Mining and Milling Company, and that all stockholders in that incorporation would be left with nothing, it also meant that the new owners of the mine and mill would have a clear and unencumbered title to the property, with no debts hanging over their heads. With that in mind, rumors began to circulate concerning the future of the mine and mill. Most seemed to believe that the trustee of the bonds would buy the property himself, thus nominally keeping the Homestake-King in the hands of its previous owners, most of whom were bondholders. A. S. Dingee, the trustee, fed these rumors by declaring that the Homestake-King was not defunct and that he intended to get the property back into shape for some sort of activity.

Other rumors circulated, claiming that Tonopah and Manhattan mining concerns intended to buy the mill and move it elsewhere, but on December 9th, Dingee bought the property. Shortly afterwards, in company with former president Milam, Dingee visited the district in order to inspect the mine and mill and to discuss the possibilities of resuming work. The. two men received several offers to buy the mill, including one by a Goldfield company which had watched its mill burn to the ground, but Milam and Dingee decided to give it another go. The two announced that they would provide funds for further sinking and development work in the mine. Only when it was proven that the Homestake-King had no more ore in the ground would they consider selling the mill. Happily, with the ownership of the Homestake-King estate settled in court, Dingee was able to pay the county taxes on the property and the Homestake-King once again entered the active tax list of Nye County at the end of 1911. [71]

During the early months of 1912, Dingee and Milam made an effort to discover more ore in the mine, but had no luck. The Homestake-King mine and mill were soon back on the sale block. Rumors circulated in the following months that the mill would be sold to mining outfits from Tonopah and Hornsilver, but due to the demise of the Rhyolite Herald in June of 1912, details are scarce. The property appeared on the county tax roll at the end of 1912 as being owned by one S.H. Brady of Tonopah, but the mill was not moved. During succeeding years, it was slowly sold off in pieces, and the remainder began to deteriorate. The 1914 assessment roll lists the mill as having only fifteen stamps, indicating that ten stamps had been sold, and noted that the engine and compressor were in poor, shape. By 1918, the mill was simply assessed as an "Old Battery of 15 stamps," and was given a value of a mere $300, as compared to $10,000 only five years previously. Sadly, the Homestake-King Mill did not even have the honor of being given a second life at another mining camp, as was the usual fate of such equipment.

Brady and another man named Thorkildsen continued to hold title to the mine and mill until 1921, when the Nye County treasurer seized them for back taxes. At the time of the forfeiture, the mill equipment was still described as an old battery of fifteen stamps. B 1930, however, when the property reappeared on the active tax list, the remnants of the mill had completely disappeared--someone had appropriated the remaining equipment between 1921 and 1930.

The rest of the history of the Homestake-King is by now a familiar story. The property was purchased by Roy J. Pomeroy of Los Angeles in 1930, along with the claims of the Original Bullfrog, the West Extension and several other Bullfrog district mines. Pomeroy incorporated himself as the Rhyolite Consolidated Mining Company, and shortly thereafter sold out to D.M. Findlay of Beatty. Findlay retained title for several years, and operated the property intermittently. A 1935 report, in a minor understatement, concluded that "lack of capital is hindering developments at this property."

In 1937, the mine was described as being worked by fourteen men employed by the General Milling Company of Beatty, which had equipped it with a gas hoist, a compressor and machine drills. During subsequent years, however, the mine was reported to be idle, and Findlay sold it to C.A. Liddell in 1940. Liddell and/or lessees of his worked on the property again for several years, and finally discovered another vein of ore, such as Milam and Dingee had vainly searched for in 1912. Between 1940 and 1942, a quantity of $35 ore was hoisted from the mine and shipped out for reduction. The company reported that there was some $20 ore still in the mine, but that there was no profitable way to handle it, due to excessive transportation and supply costs.

The property was again idle in 1943, and from then until 1960, remained in the hands of Liddell. No work was done during those years, and the mine bounced back and forth between the delinquent and the active tax rolls. In 1960, Mark Leff of Beverly Hills, California, purchased the property and retained title to it until the mid-1970's when the Homestake-King Mine was finally purchased by the National Park Service and made a part of Death Valley National Monument. [72]

Total production figures for the Homestake-King mine and mill are hard to determine, due to the lack of adequate records. The Rhyolite Herald reported in 1910 that the combined production of the mine and mill had been $70,000 during its nine months of operation, but a 1943 study by the University of Nevada reduced that figure to $54,261. Using either figure, it is obvious that the Homestake-King did not produce enough bullion to pay for the costs of development and of mill construction. At least, in this case, everyone involved lost evenly, for despite the later all allegations of disappointed stockholders, it appears that the Homestake-King mine and mill were operated honestly. That in itself is a unique feature of the mine, as well as a comment upon the times in which it operated.

Nevertheless, the Homestake-King Mill, even taking the lower figures reported in 1943, stands as the fifth largest producer of gold in the entire Bullfrog District, and as the largest producer of those Bullfrog mines which are located within Death Valley National Monument. [73]

b. Miscellaneous Homestakes

Like most successful mines, the Homestake-King had its contingent of surrounding hopefuls. Outfits such as the Daisy, the Winnebago, the Trinidad and the Bullfrog Winner briefly staked out claims and attempted to find some ore. The most persistent of these companies was the Homestake Extension Mining Company, organized in July of 1906. The Extension found early indications of ore on its property, just northwest of the Homestake, and succeeded in selling a considerable amount of stock at prices up to 18¢ per share. The company promptly put its money into the ground, as good companies should, and managed to create some sizeable development works. In March of 1907, at its height of promise, the Homestake Extension had a 25-horsepower hoisting engine, an air compressor and air drills, a blacksmith shop, a bunk house, a boarding house-and an engine house. The company had completed 520 feet of development work, and reported ore values from $2 to $56 per ton.

Like so many other small mining companies which operated on a day-to-day basis, the Panic of 1907 destroyed the Homestake Extension. Its principal backers were local stock brokers and small-time mining promoters, just the type who were hurt most by the panic. With its financiers' purse strings suddenly tightened and with the general plunge in stock sales brought on by the panic, the Homestake Extension was cut off at the pass, before it really had a chance to prove whether or not it could become a productive mine. The company retained title to its claims for another two years, but no further work on the mine was possible. [74]

c. Present Status Evaluation and Recommendations

The Gold Bar-Homestake area will be nominated to the National Register. These two mines and mills are as close in proximity as they were far apart in their histories. The Gold Bar represents that all too frequent type of mining operation wherein the stockholders were taken for all they were worth, while the Homestake-King was one of the most honestly (if not wisely) run mining companies of its time. Thus the happy chance that the two properties are adjacent presents the Monument with the rare opportunity to compare and contrast the best and the worst of early twentieth-century mining history. In addition, the Gold Bar and the Homestake-King mills were the only mills built in the Bullfrog District which fall within the confines of Death Valley National Monument.

Illustration 46. Sketch Map, Homestake-Gold Bar Historic Site.

The historic structures at this complex run the range from relatively insignificant to downright impressive. The former site of the Homestake-Gold Bar camp is today marked by little more than piles of rusted cans, broken bottles, and scattered timber debris. Careful examination of the area can result in the detection of several old building sites, but to the casual observer little remains to mark the once thriving camp.

The mine sites are another matter. As usual, prospect holes, dumps and shafts dot the landscape. The Gold Bar property had at least four shafts and two adits. A crude headframe still stands over one of these shafts, but the huge ore bin and headframe of the main working shaft has disappeared. The Gold Bar Mill was long ago carted away, as described above, but the concrete and brick foundations of the mill still mark the site.

The Homestake-King ruins are far more impressive. Situated towards the top of the hill is the large working area where the main hoisting shaft of the Homestake-King was located. Extensive timber ruins of the collapsed headframe mark the spot, and the visitor can easily see the double compartment, timbered shaft under the headframe ruins. Three shafts and an adit are below the main shaft, and several more shafts may be found across the top of the ridge to the north, on the old Gold King property.

The best, however, has been saved for the last. By following the old ore road around the side of the hill from the Homestake-King shaft, one arrives at the top of the Homestake-King Mill site. Although the only remains of the mill are the concrete foundations, the very size of those foundations is utterly impressive. Six parallel rows of foundation walls step down the side of the mill for several hundred feet. Some of the foundation walls are eighty feet from side to side, and rise fifteen feet above the slope of the hill. In addition, several piles of timber debris and one large collection of used cyanide flasks may be found.

But the concrete foundations of the Homestake-King Mill, situated on the side of the hilt looking south towards Bullfrog Mountain, clearly dominate the scene. The mill foundations. are visible for miles away from the desert floor, and grow more and more impressive as one nears the site. The sheer size of the ruins, contrasted with the quiet desertion of the desert around it, forces the viewer to attempt to grasp the seemingly illogical fact that this rather isolated and desolate portion of the Nevada desert once teemed with life, activity, and hope.

The Gold Bar-Homestake complex, quite obviously, should be protected, preserved, and interpreted. The protection and preservation efforts should be centered around the mill foundations of the Gold Bar and the Homestake-King. Although both foundation sites seemed stable enough to the untrained eye of an historian, a more expert opinion should be obtained, in order to prevent any future damage to these impressive remains. The interpretation of this area, like that of the rest of the Bullfrog District which falls within the Monument boundaries, is absolutely non-existent at present. At the very least, signs or exhibits which identify the remains should be posted. At best, the vast potential interpretive value of this complex should be utilized. As stated before, this site offers the unique opportunity to compare and contrast two opposite extremes of the mining business as practiced in the early twentieth century.

As a final note, the Monument should immediately make some effort to mark its boundaries. The visitor, especially one with access to a four-wheel drive vehicle, has a choice of almost a dozen routes to take to the Homestake-Gold Bar area. Few of these roads are marked with National Park Service boundary signs, which would warn the traveler that he has entered a protected domain. Given the proliferation of souvenir and rock hunters found in this area, the marking of the boundaries is the most critical passive measure of protection which could be given to this complex.

the Homestake-Gold Bar complex
Illustration 47. View of the Homestake-Gold Bar complex from the south. All traces of the camp buildings have disappeared, and the two prominent mill buildings which once dominated the scene have vanished. The Gold Bar Mill foundations cannot be seen in this view, since they are tucked behind a small ridge. In the center top are the dumps of the Homestake-King, and the mill foundations of that mine are barely visible in the shadows to the right of the picture. Compare this photo to those of 1906-1908, taken from approximately the same spot, which show the camp in various stages of activity. 1978 photo by John Latschar.

the Homestake-Gold Bar complex

the Homestake-Gold Bar complex
Illustrations 48-49. Top: Reverse of the preceeding view, looking south from the top of the Homestake-King dump. The dump in the middle of the picture marks the former working shaft of the Gold Bar. The large gallows frame and ore bin were built on top of that dump, and the rather small foundations of the Gold Bar mill can barely be seen to the left, below the dump. The prominent wagon road in the top left of the picture leads south towards Rhyolite. Bottom: Close-up view of a portion of the Gold Bar Mill foundations. 1978 photos by John Latschar.

headframe of the Homestake-King main working shaft

headframe of the Homestake-King main working shaft
Illustrations 50-51. Top: The collapsed headframe of the Homestake-King main working shaft. The old engine house, which may be seen in the 1906 photo printed above, sat in the foreground of this picture. Note the concrete and steel foundations, where the hoisting engines were mounted. Below: View of the Homestake-King Mill foundations, looking down towards the old camp site. Although depth perceptions are not evident in the photo, the mill was built on a decided slope, enabling it to utilize the force of gravity as a power supplement. 1978 photos by John Latschar.

Homestake-King foundation walls

Homestake-King foundation walls
Illustrations 52-53. Top: Close-up of one tier of the Homestake-King foundation walls, showing its dimensions. This wall was eighty feet in length, over fifteen feet high, and was several feet thick. Bottom: The Homestake-King Mill foundations from below. Although distances are deceiving in photographs, the distance from the bottom wall to the small concrete pedestal at the top is approximately one hundred and fifty feet. 1978 photos by John Latschar.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003